Can we stop speculating about what's really happening with the coronavirus in China? Can we please put an end to "this might work" and "that's going to solve it," kinds of research? Oh, and when it comes to numbers, I have an idea, trust no one.
Everything is in flux. Every aspect of this illness is dynamic and even the Centers for Disease Control may not be updating correctly. Am I seriously to believe that there are only 11 confirmed positive cases in this entire country as of yesterday when there are 20 on a Carnival Cruise ship off of Yokohama? If that's all there are -- and the CDC site itself seems to lack the most recent case, which makes it twelve -- then we are really wasting our time with this as the numbers from the real flu are far more devastating and the transmission far more lethal.
The latest published count of the seasonal flu numbers -- 15 million cases, 140,000 hospitalizations and 8200 deaths, which again, we know are too low as they are from the middle of last month -- makes us wonder why we are wasting our time with this illness at all? The lack of new corona cases here is certainly comforting, and gives you confidence that the quarantine is effective in the United States.
But I think that whatever the Chinese are doing does not give me any confidence at all for four different reasons.
One, I don't trust the Chinese updates as far as I can throw them, because the Chinese are not letting any U.S. entities near the numbers to verify them. Two, the companies that report are taking a very different, very negative, view. Three, the smuggled online videos from the front lines in Wuhan are devastating. Four, the endless stimulus coming from China in all sorts of ways -- including, I believe, out and out buying of stocks there and abroad -- are creating a very false sense of how good things may be.
Of these the most palpable measure of the decline comes from Yum China (YUMC) . I will have more to say about this later after I do my Action Alerts Plus club call, but the conference call last night told a story of tremendous strain on the entire system and of something much bigger and worse than just what's happening in Wuhan.
The one thing that seems, at all times, to be the wrong thing to do, though, is to try to call the top here.
Two days ago, Cowen, for example, flagged a dip in new, suspected and confirmed cases in China. I know I got my hopes up that we had a new, more comforting trend.
Then yesterday the numbers spiked right back up. If you based any of your investing on that one set of numbers, you got it wrong and have to unwind your position.
The only thing less reliable than daily numbers? The daily reports that someone has a vaccine or a cure for the illness. Many different drugs have been tried. I have to believe that if anything worked we would know about it pretty darned fast.
Here's the only certainty I can offer: Clorox (CLX) kills the virus. You use wipes, you can protect yourself from surface transmission.
Everything else? You take it not with a grain of salt but with a salt dome the size of the tomb of Lot's wife, a mythic mountain that's the perfect metaphor for the moment.